DIOCLETIAN, ROBERT ADAM AND BLACKFRIARS ROAD – Aug 16
I’ve just returned from an invigorating holiday in Croatia. A highlight (among a variety of pleasures) was visiting Diocletian’s Palace in Split. Famously, the palace was surveyed and drawn by Robert Adam resulting in his publication The Ruins of the Palace of the Emperor Diocletian at Spalatro, 1764.
A part of the palace, the peristyle, features Corinthian columns carrying a series of arches. The columns are a mix of re-used red Egyptian granite and cippolino shafts, with the dimension of the capitals and bases adjusted to ensure a level springing for the arches. Why were the shafts not turned down to uniform, slightly smaller, sizes? Perhaps there was insufficient time in the completion of such a large, lavish structure, or does it reflect a decline in architectural standards?
The run of Corinthian arches ends with attached columns in antis. Their capitals (as is correct for antae) are simple with only some alignment to the Corinthian capitals. Robert Adam was attracted to their novel form and titled the form the Spalatro Order and adopted it for his own use.
However Adam had not recorded the antae capitals accurately, none of the four are similar, each is an individual design. The design published in The Ruins of Spalatro is an idealised refined form. It is inconceivable that Adam even in the short time available to him, surveyed inaccurately. He was presenting an attractive, novel form that he would use in his architectural practice with the authority of an impeccable Classical precedent.
A drawing of the capitals from my notebook.
Surely the inspiration behind the antae capitals are the early simplified Corinthian capitals of the Tower of the Winds in Athens. As the emperor of the eastern half of the Roman Empire Diocletian may have wanted specifically eastern designs. Sure enough in practice Adam used the Spalatro Order although curiously in his other publication, The Works in Achitecutre of Robert and James Adam he calls it a Doric order.
Some of the places where he used it are:
-The Ante Room at Kedleston
-The Dining Room in Shellburne House
-The Saloon at Saltram
-Externally at the rear of 20 St. James’s Square (now destroyed)
Photo of the saloon at Saltram (photo courtesy of Baz Richardson ,© all rights reserved, see bottom of article).
In each of these the order was not used in antis but as a full order of both circular columns and square, attached pilasters. The circular form is a logical development that then highlights the possible origin of the Order in the Tower of the Winds.
It was influential being adopted by other architects and builders in the later 18th century. An example in the doorcase of our London office in Blackfriars Road. (Actually, this is a replacement instructed by me after the original was stolen but it is based on firm evidence.) Blackfriars Road was laid out by Robert Mylne, a fellow scot who was friendly with the Adams – so there’s another link.
And finally highlighting the adaptability and uses of the orders my landlord, Paul Dyson, has just installed a chimney-piece in his drawing room at Blackfriars Road based on an illustration in The Survey of London; this too makes use of the Spalatro Order.
Thanks to Baz Richards, who kindly allowed us to use his photo of the saloon in Saltram House, in the article.